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That Wonderful, COLORFUL, White Alpaca Fiber
Author: Lana Nickerson
Visitors to our farm are always surprised when I tell them that we register our alpacas using a color chart of sixteen different colors. They look around, and with their untrained eyes, they see only shades of brown and white. Well, there was that gray one, but shes been sold. So I take them inside and show them my yarn
The wonder of alpaca fiber is the variety of hues you can get from it. It doesnt end with the natural colors from the chart. We have created a variety of shades by blending two colors to form interesting tweeds. For example, you take a dark brown and ply it with a dark fawn, and voila - a very striking yarn we call Chocolate Lovers Delight, as it looks like milk chocolate and dark chocolate twined together.
To my mind, though, the most versatile fleece on our farm comes from our white alpacas. It is very common for us to blend white fiber with dark fiber to form a tweedy look. Our processor usually does the blending at the combing stage, but you get a different look by plying the individual strands of single-ply yarn. It is a wonderful way to get more yarn from a young colored animal who doesnt have a huge clip. One of the first times I did this, we used a bay black fleece from one of our girls and blended it with some of the white fleece from our herdsire. The result was a gorgeous steel gray yarn. (So if you dont have any gray alpacas, all you need is a black or bay black animal and a white animal, and you have your gray yarn.)
The color palette really opens up, though, if you introduce a dye pot. We have a number of white animals, and weve found that the amount of white yarn they produced is more than our buyers want. Our fiber processor, Diane Knowlen of Oasis Fiber Mill in Otisfield, Maine, told me once that she had noticed that her dyed angora bunny yarn sold much faster than the un-dyed white yarn. She suggested I try dying some of my white alpaca yarn and even some of the beige. I was a bit intimidated at first, because Id read a bit about the process and it looked daunting mordant and all that. What I found out, though, was that there are chemical dyes out there that are easy and safe to use. One of them, Rit, can be purchased at the grocery store, as can Kool Aid! But I chose to use Country Classic Dyes, because of the variety of bright colors they offer. The directions are straightforward and are printed right on each bottle. I found the dyes in a number of catalogs and websites, and the price of each jar was pretty consistent around $5.00 a jar. I like to buy from New England farms, so I found a source in Vermont.
Armed with my colorful jars of dye and a couple of large batches of white yarn, I was ready to go. Being a bit of a Swamp Yankee, I usually have my yarn put on cones. This means I had to take the yarn off the cones and onto a Niddy Noddy in order to make a skein that would dye well. I tried to get two ounces per skein, but it was an imperfect guesswork of a method at best. A few pounds done that way showed me that it would be cost effective to pay for skeining at the mini-mill! Back from the mill comes two ounce skeins of white yarn, all set to wash and put into the dye pot.
Dying does require you to use pans that you never plan to use for cooking again! I find that enamel pans work well and are inexpensive. I have a large stock pot made of enamel, in which I do solid-color dying. The bigger the pot you use, the more skeins you can fit and the bigger your dye lot will be.
I started out following the directions to the letter to get the expected color. Then one time I zoned out while measuring out the teaspoons of dark forest green dye. I counted to three instead of six, as I should have. The yarn came out a beautiful shade of light moss green. Aha, said I, you can experiment a little with the amount of powder and get different shades! I found that the public loved the dyed yarn as well as the natural colored yarn and it solved the problem of having too much white yarn.
But I still envied some of the commercial yarn I saw that had a rainbow of colors in it. Fortunately for me, at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival, I saw the hand-dyed rainbow yarn made by Janet Garcia of Starry Night Alpacas. It was a beautiful blend of a number of colors and shed gotten the shades by using Rit! She was kind enough to give me her recipe for rainbow dying and is willing to share it with the readers of this article.
It is the most fun to do, and I use my Country Classic Dyes. You bake the yarn in the oven. Or maybe it is more accurate to say you roast the yarn! I use an enamel roasting pan with a cover, but you can also use a large glass baking dish and use foil as a cover. Heres the recipe for Janet Garcias Rainbow Yarn:
Soak skeins of yarn in lukewarm water, with a little vinegar, for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to between 250 and 300 degrees.
Place yarn in a large roasting type pan, enamel or glass. Place yarn around outside edge and work toward center. Flatten it as much as possible.
Fill pan with lukewarm water, about ¾ the way up the yarn. (You dont want dye floating in water.)
Sprinkle the powder dye in strips along the length of the yarn. The heavier the sprinkle, the darker the color. Where dyes overlap, youll get a blending of color. We use three colors.
Place covered pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn off heat and let cool in oven.
Rinse in water temp which is the same as in the pan. Rinse until the water runs clear. Squeeze gently and dry in the shade.
Reskeining or putting into pull balls will rearrange the color bands.
I had the best time deciding which three colors I would use. Sometimes, the way the colors blend will give you unexpected results! But someone always likes the colors, even if you dont. It helped me a lot to remember my primary colors and what they make.
Blue and yellow make green.
Blue and red make purple.
Red and yellow make orange.
Try using a green or purple or orange dye and youll be surprised what you might get as they blend with each other! My rainbow yarn is the first to be bought, whether at a fair, at a show or at home. I cant keep it in stock.
Thank goodness for those wonderful, colorful white alpacas
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